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Who was Polly Swallow?

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  • Who was Polly Swallow?

    Originally posted by Debra Arif View Post
    A young Yorkshire lass with her stays, chemise and fish nets on show.



    Photographer's description: "Photograph of girl with net over her shoulder wearing a plaided shawl. Dress waist open showing stays."
    I've been interested in the photographs of Frank (Francis) Meadow Sutcliffe for a couple of years, mainly his depictions of the fishing community in Whitby, so while I was over in Whitby last week I visited the Sutcliffe Gallery on Flowergate and noticed that they have this same photograph that I posted on the forums 2 years ago by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, described in their collection as being of "Polly Swallow", a fishergirl of Church Street, Whitby and taken c 1889.
    I originally found the picture in files deposited at the National Archives by the Stationers Company, after I became interested in Sutcliffe's work. The Stationers Company files contain hundreds of thousands of copies of photographs sent in when a photographer wished to register that photograph for copyright.
    The picture I posted was sent in by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe and the address of his studio in Whitby is given. The copyright was applied for in 1896.
    Sutcliffe had applied for copyright on many of his photographs during the late Victorian period, one other being the famous picture depicting naked boy bathers. That photograph was taken in 1886 and also registered the same year. That got me wondering why a photograph of "Polly Swallow" taken in 1889 would be registered in 1896 and why was it described in the copyright files very oddly as a--"Photograph of girl with net over her shoulder wearing a plaided shawl. Dress waist open showing stays." with no mention of a name or date. I can't see this copyright application (or any of his others) mentioned in the Sutcliffe Gallery or Whitby museum write ups either.

    I wonder why no one had ever commented before on the fact that Polly was basically showing off her underwear in the pictures? It isn't obvious to us today and if it hadn't have been for the description I wouldn't have known but at the time the photographs were published wouldn't that have seemed a little 'indecent' to be posing like that?

    I tried to do a bit of background research into Polly Swallow and can't for the life of me find any girl named Swallow in Whitby who could be Polly. The name Swallow was not very common in the area, although there are a couple of families with the name, none who I can see ever lived on Church St though. I'll keep plugging at it as I find it quite an interesting little mystery but if anyone has any ideas or knows anything more, I'd love some more info!

  • #2
    Hi Debs

    I haven't found her either but it's a strange coincidence that in 1881 in Leeds there was a whole Swallow family in the staymaking business, one of whom was Polly, born 1852.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Robert Linford View Post
      Hi Debs

      I haven't found her either but it's a strange coincidence that in 1881 in Leeds there was a whole Swallow family in the staymaking business, one of whom was Polly, born 1852.
      Hi Robert
      Thanks for that. Yes, that is a strange coincidence as Sutcliffe came from Leeds originally.

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      • #4
        Hi Debs,

        I'm sure you've seen the older Polly Swallow, the daughter of James, a steam boat master of Cragg, Whitby. She was born ca 1837, so I doubt she's your girl.

        Gary

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
          Hi Debs,

          I'm sure you've seen the older Polly Swallow, the daughter of James, a steam boat master of Cragg, Whitby. She was born ca 1837, so I doubt she's your girl.

          Gary
          Hi Gary,
          Thanks. I did notice her and thought it might lead me to a grandaughter or something but no luck that route either.

          I was just looking earlier and another of the pictures in the copyright registers is one Sutcliffe submitted with the title "only a fisher boy" and is described as of a smiling fisher boy. Other sources name the same boy as James Gray and date the photograph to 1890, although Sutcliffe applied for copyright in 1893. I did find one James Gray who would have been about 10 in 1890 but the family didn't seem to be fisher folk.

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          • #6
            There are at least two more of 'Polly' (I think) in the gallery.
            Thanks for highlighting Sutcliffe's work Debs, although I have been to Whitby 2 or 3 times, I hadn't heard of him.

            http://www.sutcliffe-gallery.co.uk

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
              There are at least two more of 'Polly' (I think) in the gallery.
              Thanks for highlighting Sutcliffe's work Debs, although I have been to Whitby 2 or 3 times, I hadn't heard of him.

              http://www.sutcliffe-gallery.co.uk
              Hi Gary,
              I recall there's one where she's examining a sea shell but I don't think I've seen the other one.
              I know that sometimes the 'Polly' pic is reversed, with the net over Polly's right shoulder but I imagine the left shoulder version is the correct way as Sutcliffe himself sent in the print for copyright registration taken from the original glass negative.

              I love Sutcliffe's pictures. I only discovered them a couple of years ago myself while looking through the stationers archives.

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              • #8
                I'm still intrigued why Polly Swallow is portrayed with the front of her dress open to the waist with her stays and chemise on show. All the other fisher women in the pictures are buttoned up tightly right to the chin!

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
                  There are at least two more of 'Polly' (I think) in the gallery.
                  Thanks for highlighting Sutcliffe's work Debs, although I have been to Whitby 2 or 3 times, I hadn't heard of him.

                  http://www.sutcliffe-gallery.co.uk
                  I just spotted the other closer portrait one where she's wrapped in a shawl on the link, thanks, Gary. Hadn't seen that one before.

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                  • #10
                    I think the staymaking Polly Swallow may have married John Iredale Pickard in 1889. He died just in time for the 1911 census.

                    There seems nothing to connect John Pickard with fish or to suggest that Polly ever went fishing at Whitby - unless she was trying to catch whales for the stays, in which case she'd need a bigger net.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Debra Arif View Post
                      I'm still intrigued why Polly Swallow is portrayed with the front of her dress open to the waist with her stays and chemise on show. All the other fisher women in the pictures are buttoned up tightly right to the chin!
                      Quite a daring pose for the time and in such a small community. I wonder whether Polly Swallow was her real name and whether she really was a fisher girl?

                      There was another photographer, a bit earlier I think, who took a lot of pictures of Scots fisher folk. I watched a documentary about him some years ago, but the old memory banks don't seem to have retained his name.

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                      • #12
                        I wonder whether Polly Swallow was her real name and whether she really was a fisher girl?

                        Also, perhaps Debs can clarify whether the absence of a wedding ring suggests she was neither married nor widowed.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Robert Linford View Post
                          I wonder whether Polly Swallow was her real name and whether she really was a fisher girl?

                          Also, perhaps Debs can clarify whether the absence of a wedding ring suggests she was neither married nor widowed.
                          Hi Gary and Robert,
                          I have seen a mention (connected to Ray Randall I think) that Polly was 18. Perhaps all this was on file in Sutcliffe's records but it's strange that she isn't traceable. If she was a Whitby fisher girl I'm sure she would be from a fisher family but there don't seem to be even a family named Swallow who were fisher folk. The other married women in the pictures are wearing wedding rings if you look closely so if Polly was married I think she would be wearing one. I checked Whitby Parish records for Swallow marriages and there is only one in the whole records- that of Daniel Swallow, a gentleman's servant, whose dad was a grocer. He married a woman named Kizia Gorbortt back in 1863 whose father was a station master--so no obvious fisher connections there it seems.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Debra Arif View Post
                            Hi Gary and Robert,
                            I have seen a mention (connected to Ray Randall I think) that Polly was 18. Perhaps all this was on file in Sutcliffe's records but it's strange that she isn't traceable. If she was a Whitby fisher girl I'm sure she would be from a fisher family but there don't seem to be even a family named Swallow who were fisher folk. The other married women in the pictures are wearing wedding rings if you look closely so if Polly was married I think she would be wearing one. I checked Whitby Parish records for Swallow marriages and there is only one in the whole records- that of Daniel Swallow, a gentleman's servant, whose dad was a grocer. He married a woman named Kizia Gorbortt back in 1863 whose father was a station master--so no obvious fisher connections there it seems.
                            I would have said she was quite young, despite the world-weary eyes. But there's an air of confidence about her that might be described as brazenness. There's a story there, I'd be willing to bet.

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                            • #15
                              Thanks Debs. There were a couple of Whitby Swallow births - James Stewart Swallow, and Daniel Richard George Swallow. This latter sounds like the issue of the marriage you mentioned.

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